How Maroon 5 Stays Winning on the Charts After a Decade and a Half
Maroon 5 hit the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time on the chart dated Apr. 3, 2004, with breakout Songs About Jane single "This Love." Here are the names of some of the other lead artists on that week's top 10: Cassidy, Clay Aiken, Mario Winans, Chingy, J-Kwon and Evanescence.
You probably don't need us to tell you that those artists haven't made a tremendous number of repeat visits to the top 10 in the years since; indeed, none of them have been there in at least a decade. But Maroon 5 has. In fact, "This Love" was just the first of a whopping 14 top 10 hits the group has had on the chart this century, with two of those even coming off its latest LP, last year's Red Pill Blues (three if you count 2016's "Don't Wanna Know," from the set's deluxe edition). Most recently, "Girls Like You" became the highest-charting of those hits, reaching No. 2 on the chart dated Aug. 18 -- the group's third such runner-up peak (after "Payphone" in 2011 and "Sugar" in 2015), to go with three hits that made it all the way to No. 1 (2007's "Makes Me Wonder," 2011's Christina Aguilera-featuring "Moves Like Jagger" and 2012's "One More Night").
That kind of chart longevity would be tremendous for any artist. But for Maroon 5 -- a rock-pop septet whose members are all at least pushing 40 -- it's particularly impressive. Listen to the slickly produced, guitar-driven blue-eyed soul that made up the group's early hits, and with the possible exception of a stray Charlie Puth hit here or there, you won't find much like that original sound on radio in 2018. Bands in general are also in pretty short supply on the charts these days: Eight months into the 2018 calendar year, and Imagine Dragons are the only other band besides Maroon 5 with a conventional guitar-bass-drum band lineup to hit the Hot 100's top 10. (Not to mention that "Girls Like You," depsite its guest rap, is the only song in the top 10 this week not classified by Billboard as an R&B/hip-hop song.)
So how do Adam Levine & Co. do it? Well, the most obvious answer is: They get help. Look at the artist credits of Maroon 5's three Red Pill-era top 10s and you'll see an equally recognizable name right next to theirs: Kendrick Lamar featured on "Don't Wanna Know" (No. 8), SZA on "What Lovers Do" (No. 9) and Cardi B on the remix to "Girls Like You." The inclusion of three of 2018's biggest, timeliest stars on each of the band's recent top 10 hits -- which doesn't even count the Future-featuring "Cold," a No. 16 hit in April 2017 -- gave the songs an obvious boost, making them must-listens for younger fans of those hipper artists (who might not even be old enough to remember Maroon 5's Songs About Jane era), and offering the band a decent amount of 2018 cool by proxy.
However, to say it's only the guests that does it both underestimates Maroon 5's own skills as hitmakers, and overstates the influence of a seemingly bulletproof feature. While a cameo from Cardi or Kendrick certainly helps your single's chances of crossing over, it's not a guarantee to do so -- ask Rita Ora or U2, who scored guest appearances within the past year from the two artists (on "Girls" and "Get Out of Your Own Way," respectively), but still didn't even hit the Hot 100 with either single. What's more, while SZA might seem a commercial force in late 2018, following a big Black Panther hit, a couple high-profile TV performances and a bunch of Grammy nominations, when "What Lovers Do" was released last August, it was arguably just a big a boon for SZA to be on a single with established pop stars like Maroon 5 as it was for the band to harness her rising-star energy.
And Maroon 5 has an advantage just as important as big guest stars: a seemingly permanent seat at the table at Top 40 radio. A staggering 13 of the group's last 14 official singles have hit the top 10 of Billboard's Radio Songs chart -- a streak interrupted only by the No. 16 peak of 2015 one-off "This Summer's Gonna Hurt Like a MotherFucker," whose chorus contained a very big and obvious impediment to its radio-readiness. "What Lovers Do" reached No. 5 on the chart, while "Don't Wanna Know" and "Girls Like You" each topped it outright -- two of their six Radio Songs No. 1s, the most of any group in the chart's 27-year history.
It's not a status the group got to by accident, either. It has spent the last 15 years evolving to fit with contemporary radio, whether via collaborations with hitmaking producers like Benny Blanco, Shellback, Max Martin and Ryan Tedder, or shifts in its sound to blend in with modern trends towards EDM, dancehall and trop house, among other sounds. Maroon 5 in 2018 doesn't sound like Maroon 5 in 2015, 2012 or 2007 -- but each of those incarnations of the band sounds enough like what else was going on in their respective years' top 40 rotations to not stick out conspicuously among them.
Of course, it's been easier for Maroon 5 to stay relevant on radio than it has been for them with streaming. The band scored a No. 3 hit on Billboard's Streaming Songs chart with "Sugar" in 2015, but since then, it has hit the top 10 only once. The group is starting to edge its way back in on that chart as well, though, not just by enlisting cameos from top-streamed artists like Kendrick and Cardi, but by focusing increased efforts on its singles' accompanying music videos, going semi-viral with clips like the Pokemon Go-parodying "Don't Wana Know" video, or with the star-studded all-female cameos of its "Girls Like You" visual. (The latter currently has over 600 million views to date on YouTube, helping the single reach No. 5 on Streaming Songs.)
It hasn't been easy for Maroon 5 to maintain a regular presence in the Hot 100's upper echelon as all its peers from a decade and a half ago have slowly fallen by the mainstream's wayside: Simply writing catchy pop-rock songs, as the band has been able to do consistently for its entire chart run, is no longer anywhere near sufficient. But the band has proven that for those who are willing to put in the work and the resources, into keeping their sound consistently updated to the times, into crafting headline-catching visuals to go with its hit singles, and into recruiting the big-name artists who can attach their own skills and contemporary cred to those hits, there's still a place near the top of the charts for Bands Like Them.